Category Archives: Community

First-World Problems and Refugees

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Magnus Wennman / Aftonbladet / REX Shutterstock

By Cara Lopez Lee

This entire week, my husband and I have been awaiting word on our mortgage loan documents, hoping our lender draws them up soon so we can close on a new house. On Monday, nobody was answering our calls and we grew anxious. For the past three days we’ve heard promise after promise followed by delay after delay. For some reason, it all makes me think of Syria’s refugees, whose situation is of course a million times direr than ours. I can’t help but seek metaphors, because that’s what my mind does when I try to make sense of things that don’t make sense. So I imagine Syrians desperate for a new home, anxious they made a mistake by leaving the old one, and at the moment they most want help, unable to get it.

About half of the homeless Syrian refugees are children. Yesterday, a friend shared these images by photographer Magnus Wennman, who has been documenting where Syrian refugee children sleep, and I can’t get them out of my head. Some of the children live in fear of the pillows they sleep on, because the attacks on their former homes came at night and they worry that their pillows caused the attacks. Of course, many of the children have no pillows.

Most of the suspected terrorists arrested for perpetrating the Paris attacks have already been verified as European nationals, not Syrian refugees. Nobody is suggesting we stop allowing European nationals into our country. But someone found what appears to be a fake Syrian passport carried by a suicide bomber, and even though someone else was carrying the same person’s passport in another country, and even though this one was likely planted to inflame public outrage, many have allowed that outrage to be inflamed without further investigation. Those people say we should not risk letting Syrian refugees seek refuge in our country. This is one of the goals of terrorists, this sort of knee-jerk fear and anger.

Who do you think many Syrian refugees are running from in the first place? The violence and chaos caused by Islamic State and other extremist elements. Who benefits when Westerners escalate discrimination against Muslims? Extremists who want a holy war with the West.

If you’re one of those who want to shut our borders to people who are fleeing for their lives,  because you believe it will make our lives more secure, you’re kidding yourself. Islamic State is better funded than Al Qaeda ever was, many times over. The organization is rolling in oil money. Do you think if we close our borders to Syrians, we’ll stop Islamic State from continuing its reign of terror, that terrorists won’t find a way to attack Western nations? Most, if not all, the terrorists in this recent attack already lived in Europe. They already found a way in. They were not refugees.

Do you think it was Iraqis who attacked America on 9/11, when it was in fact Saudi Arabians? Do you know we have not closed our doors to Iraqis or Saudis in this country? Because most of them are not terrorists.

If you want to slam the door in the face of people running for their lives, at least half of whom are children, then shame on you. Pray you never know what it’s like to be running from death and destruction only to find that nobody will open their doors to you.

As for my husband and me, we’ll continue waiting for word on our loan documents, and until we close on the house we want, we’ll worry that something will happen to stop us from getting it. If we don’t get the house, it’s not as if we’ll be homeless. We’ll simply find an apartment and keep looking. Actually, our mortgage consultant assures me that we will get the house, sooner or later.

Come to think of it, we’re very, very lucky. Shame on me for worrying over such an enviable First-World problem.

 

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Women Prisoners And The Revolving Door

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2428447I usually get a kick out of a good scare, but as Halloween approached this week, I read an email from a friend about something that I believe is scarier than it needs to be. It takes place in prison and involves terrified women inmates. I suppose it makes sense that prison might be a scary place, but these women are frightened about what will happen to them when they get out.

Karen Levi-Lausa is the heart and soul behind a Colorado nonprofit program called  Words Beyond Bars, which takes literature and literary discussion into prisons. I’ve participated in a couple of the book discussions with male prisoners at the Sterling Correctional Facility, and I’ve seen what a transformative effect it has in the lives of long-term inmates who are eager to learn, grow, and connect. Recently, Karen took a similar program into the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, and the experience she briefly relayed to me in her email was heartbreaking. I asked her permission to reprint just a portion of her message here:

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An Open Letter To Lighthouse Writers Workshop – Cara’s Guest Post at a Top-Secret Blog

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blot-smallFor those of you I don’t run into regularly, online or in person, I have news: after nearly 16 years in Colorado, and nearly 30 years away from California, I’m returning to my home state. It will still be a new home for me, because this time I won’t be living in Los Angeles but in the oceanside community of Ventura. I’ll tell you more about that when I’ve stopped packing and unpacking, selling my house and buying a new one…but that’s not what I wanted to talk about now. I just wanted you to understand why I’ve written the following farewell tribute to Lighthouse Writers Workshop, an organization I have treasured during my time in Denver, and one of the big reasons I almost decided not to leave:

An Open Letter to Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

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Literature in a Razor-Wired Country – Cara’s Guest Post at Words Beyond Bars

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3962556_origYou don’t have to travel far to discover other worlds within our world. I met former librarian Karen Levi-Lausa when she coordinated my book party at Denver’s Bookbar, and we got to talking about her program that brings books to prisoners, Words Beyond Bars. Karen invited me to read a couple of the books the prisoners are reading with her, and last week I joined her for a drive to Colorado’s Sterling Correctional Facility for their book discussion. This week, she posted my essay on that visit at her Words Beyond Bars blog: Literature in a Razor -Wired Country. Please take a quick look and help me spread the word about this invaluable program!

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How Do We Belong?

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SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAA friend of mine has me thinking about the fine lines between exceptional and exclusive, community and clique, special and elitist. She spoke to me recently about a couple of groups she’s familiar with. She saw one as warm and welcoming, the other as striving to be inclusive and supportive but sometimes coming across as exclusive and competitive. I wondered what caused the unintended sensation that some participants were not only more accomplished than others, but also more worthy of attention.

Throughout much of my life, belonging has not come easily to me. I’ve gone through phases of thinking it was because I was weird, or precocious, or an only child, because I came from a divorced family, or lived with my grandmother, or was working class in a middle class neighborhood, because I was mixed race in a white neighborhood, or mixed race in a Mexican neighborhood, or simply because I talked too much and too loudly.

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Sharing the Inca Trail: A Community Trek to Machu Picchu – by Guest Trekker Helene Cooper

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If I’d taken the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I would have had to share it with some 500 people a day. I prefer something off the beaten track, where I can feel more attuned with nature and experience something unique. A Community Inca Trek gave me the opportunity to venture out in a smaller group and stay in remote villages along the way.

I prefer something off the beaten track, where I can feel more attuned with nature and experience something unique.

In between long hikes, clear blue skies, archaeological beauty, and sun-blushed views of the snow-capped Peruvian Andes, I camped with locals and gained an understanding of what it’s like to live there. I also had a chance to volunteer in the villages. Many tourists don’t realize their impacts on the local environment, so it’s good to be able to give something back.

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TEEN MOM PROM – Is it a Reward, a Learning Opportunity, or Something More?

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On Monday, a Denver Post columnist wrote an article about this spring’s first-ever prom at Florence Crittenton High School for teen mothers, and the article elicited negative comments that so upset me that at first I was at a loss for words. I’ve been working on a project involving the school’s first-ever leadership class, and that class has turned the prom into a hands-on leadership project. Those who complain about the prom say it’s a reward for bad behavior. What they may not know is that this prom is also a practical training program in goal-setting, planning, and execution. It’s teaching this class the very accountability the naysayers complain they don’t have.

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WHAT WAS THE QUESTION? – When Writers Go to Town

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Perhaps you’ve heard there are only two stories: 1) someone goes on a journey, or 2) a stranger comes to town. So, there’s really only one story, because “a stranger comes to town” is the flip side of “someone goes on a journey.” As a traveler and writer, I appreciate both. When I can’t go on a journey, I love the journey to come to me.

Denver’s Lighthouse LitFest is a two-week exploration of the craft, business, and camaraderie of the writer’s life.

That’s what it is to have Denver’s Lighthouse LitFest “come to town” each year, a two-week exploration of the craft, business, and camaraderie of the writer’s life. That’s what it was to have my friend Elizabeth drive from San Diego to Denver to join me for this June’s LitFest. She’d given me a party and a place to stay during my recent book tour, and I was eager to return the favor, and to share this amazing event with another writer.

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DANCING BACK IN TIME: A Lindy Diversion Weekend

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For non-professional dancers, dancing is typically an occasional social activity, but for me it is the axis on which my whole social life turns. When I’m simply listening to music, I prefer alternative and acoustic rock, but when I dance, it’s all about swing and blues. Last weekend, I danced into another era, at a Denver event called Lindy Diversion. Swing dancers took classes all day, and danced to a live band or DJ all night — until 4:00 a.m. if they could stay awake. For those of us who dance the Lindy hop, obsession “don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”

Dance By Night from Cara Lopez Lee on Vimeo.

When I dance, it’s all about swing and blues.

I grew up with my grandmother, and she and I used to enjoy watching old movies together, especially the musicals of the 30s, 40s, and 50s: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, Gene Kelly and anybody. Whenever the music was swing, I wanted to jump up and jitterbug, though I had no idea how. I cut my teeth on big band music by the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Glen Miller. My tastes later expanded to the bad-ass swing, jump-blues, and rhythm-and-blues of artists like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Ray Charles. My grandmother used to sing the songs of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday while doing housework. So, for me, the music of that era hits the same emotional note as the smell of Grand-mom’s homemade apple pie. It’s the soundtrack of my childhood, though it was recorded before my time.
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HOMES WITHIN, COMMUNITIES WITHOUT: CARA – When Community Begins at Home

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Last week, I shared with you the first half of my two-part short film: Homes Within, Communities Without, sponsored by PlatteForum and Lighthouse Writers Workshop. If you haven’t seen part one, I hope you’ll give it a look, because I believe that somewhere between these two digital stories a third, unspoken story lies. In Audrey Haynes’ story, she shared how living on the streets has changed her ideas about community. For Audrey, community goes wherever she goes. For me, community begins at home. But it wasn’t always that way, and my story doesn’t end there.

You’ll find my video below. After you watch, I hope you’ll share your thoughts. What is the connection between home and community? What separates us all, and what connects us? What is community to you?

Homes Within, Communities Without: Cara from Cara Lopez Lee on Vimeo.

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